5 digital project pitfalls to avoid in the public sector

  • Posted on June 6, 2022
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
5 Digital Pitfalls in Public Sector

It’s no secret that people get frustrated with government, but in the conversations I’m having with our clients in the public sector, I know public sector employees and politicians want to do better by the people they serve. Elected officials and civil servants at all levels are motivated to improve citizen engagement, and it can happen. But simply “going digital” agency by agency is destined to repeat past mistakes and result in continued citizen frustrations. Here are five things to avoid in your quest to re-energize the electorate:

  1. Siloed procurement. The procurement process of many municipalities and states fosters a fractured purchasing approach with each department buying only for themselves. I see agencies purchasing technology that does exactly what they want it to do – usually from a small-scale vendor – but is not very good at integrating with other systems to share data. Not only do meaningful community insights get “left on the table,” but departments pay the price down the road when these vendors don’t have the resources to keep the product up to date.

    IT leadership can look to flexible platforms to deliver on the needs of today and tomorrow. Flexible platforms and ease of integration are key areas where procurement teams should scrutinize vendors. We see many central IT departments standardizing and building expertise in a low code platform that can meet the needs across departments.

  2. Lack of employee tools and training. Citizen facing employees are required to help customers navigate a huge variety of processes and policies; it’s rare for one person to be capable of guiding a customer through a challenging tax, licensing, or legal issue across departments. Existing training often focuses on lengthy compliance training and process update training and too little on ongoing learning and enhancement. Likewise, we see access to knowledge being limited through obfuscation including a lack of good search tools.

    Consider 311 systems, the gateway to local government for many. The agents staffing those call centers can’t possibly have all the knowledge to respond to the disparate topics that come in: graffiti, garbage collection, unwanted solicitations, potholes, and on, and on. They need training and a way to get to knowledge faster and easier with knowledge management and improved knowledge presentation. We have seen great results by implementing natural language search for 311 teams that enable them to find knowledge and engage in guided conversations with bots so that they can diagnose customer issues and deliver the right answers every time.

  3. Change without change management. Governments often work with us to help roll-out new programs to their employees but often expect citizens to adapt to change without information. In many cities and states when new programs and processes are rolled out the public is unaware which naturally leads to program under performance and citizen frustration.

    Public servants must increase their education programs for their constituents, especially when launching new digital capabilities. We are starting to see forward thinking municipal governments rethinking their communications strategies with their customers by leveraging modern digital marketing tools. These efforts can help target citizens most impacted by new programs, inform them of changes and new opportunities within their community. Ensuring that citizens are aware of transformation efforts is one step in providing the transparency that citizens crave.

  4. Conversations that aren’t data driven. Citizens often feel that they don’t have insight into their local government, and lawmakers have a hard time discussing priorities. A great deal of citizen frustration with government agencies during the pandemic was due to a lack of clear communication around available data.

    Agencies and locales that created well designed KPIs and reported status against those performance indicators using available data radically increased the impact of communications. They enabled constituents to understand priorities and progress. Data driven discussions can help make citizen communications more targeted and personalized and more likely to be read (instead of trashed or unsubscribed), and it demonstrates to your constituents that you’re making decisions based on their feedback.

  5. Poorly secured data. Nothing will derail your efforts more than a data breach. Several municipalities have told us that they’ve had five-to-ten-fold increases in the number of digital intrusion attempts in the last two years. As more private data and government critical data has moved online the attack surface for bad actors has increased.

    As you consider your platform and the apps that will run on it, embed in security in your infrastructure and application development plans. If you haven’t had a comprehensive security assessment in the last two years then don’t start your next project without one.

    Citizens want to know that their voice is being heard. This comes down to a critical blend of marketing (educating, informing, and staying in touch with your citizens) and customer service (having a great response when someone reaches out to you). With that theme as your north star, the pitfalls can be overcome, the narrative of low accountability can be re-written, and enthusiastic citizen engagement restored.

Learn more about rethinking your approach to citizen engagement.

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